The main domestic airlines in Colombia are
- Avianca (Colombia’s main national airline)
- VivaColombia (the cheap Ryanair-type airline). This airline offers the cheapest fares, but the worst booking system for foreigners. For 2014, foreign credit cards are not accepted to book a flight. VivaColombia has no offices and hardly any tour operators offer a booking service for this airline. Therefore, you can either use the call centre, find someone who has a Colombian credit card (e.g. the hotel manager) or choose the payment option with VIA-BALOTO outlets. With the latter option, you will receive a code that you can use to pay at any VIA-BALOTO outlet.
- COPA Colombia (formerly AeroRepublica)
- LATAM Colombia (formerly Lan Colombia and Aires)
- EasyFly (regional airline around Medellín, Bogotá and Bucaramanga)
- Satena(ServicioAéreoaTerritoriosNacionales) (operated by the Colombian Air Force to provide transport to the remote areas of Los Llanos, Amazona and the Pacific coast from Bogota).
- TAC (TransportesAeroColombiana) Charter carrier
- ADA (AerolineaDe Antioquia) (new airline based in Medellín offering regional flights in Antioquia and neighbouring regions)
- AEXPA (mainly a charter company to and along the Pacific coast)
They all have well-maintained fleets and regular connections to the main cities in Colombia. The main Colombian airports have been certified as “highly secure” by international organisations. The online payment process for some national airlines is complicated. Payments can be made at the airport or at official counters. Most airfares can be compared at despegar.com.co.
The metro in and around Medellín is the closest thing to a passenger train in Colombia. There are no other intercity trains in the country.
Driving is on the right-hand side of the road – most cars have a standard transmission. The Colombian car fleet consists mainly of 4-cylinder cars of European and Japanese manufacture. Foreign visitors are allowed to drive if they can show an international driving licence (a multilingual card issued by automobile and driving clubs around the world).
Insurance is cheap and compulsory.
The speed limit is 30 km/h in residential areas and 60 km/h in urban areas. The national speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph).
The country has a well-developed road network connecting all the major cities in the Andean regions as well as those on the Caribbean coast. During the rainy season (November to February), there can be major landslides on roads and highways, which disrupt traffic. This problem is usually resolved within 6 hours to 4 days. There are many toll booths; the price is about US$3. There are also many unpaved roads of varying quality. International land transport is only possible to Ecuador and Venezuela.
Bus transport is widespread and of varying levels of quality. Long distance trips rarely cost more than USD 55 (one way). When purchasing bus tickets, it is common for the passenger to go to the terminal and purchase the next available bus to the desired destination. Depending on the company or terminal, it may not even be possible to buy a ticket 1 or more days in advance! It is therefore advisable to at least know when a particular service starts and ends on a given day. Long-distance buses usually travel very slowly, as the main roads are two-lane and there is a lot of truck traffic. For any journey that takes more than 5 hours, consider flying.
Some of the main companies operating north of Bogota and Medellin to the Caribbean coast and the areas between the two cities:
- ExpresoBrasilia, toll-free number: +1 8000 51 8001. From Tigo and Movistar phones, call 501 or 502.
- Copetran, +57 7 644-81-67 (Bucaramanga), free call: +1 8000 114 164, #567 or #568 from Claro mobiles.
- BerlinasdelFonce. Trips between Bogotá, Tunja, Barbosa, Socorro, San Gil, Piedecuesta and Bucaramanga.
- RapidoOchoa, +57 4 444-88-88. It connects Bogotá to Barranquilla, Cartagena and Tolu on three separate routes, passing through several cities and towns, and Medellin to Arboletes, Monteria and Tolu on three other routes, passing through several cities and towns.
Other companies serve several towns and villages in the southern part of the country, south of Bogotá and Medellin and in the areas between these two cities, as far as the Ecuadorian border:
- Bolivariano, +57 1 424-90-90 (number in Bogotá). Operates buses from Bogotá to Manziales, Medellin, Pereira on three different routes; and from Medellin to Neiva and Mocoa on one route and from Medellin to Cali, Popayan and Ipiales on another route. They also offer international flights to Peru.
- ExpresoPalmira, +57 321 890-35-97 (from a mobile phone), free call: +1 8000 936-662.
- Fronteras- Continental Bus.
Note: There are also many other bus companies and drivers’ unions in the country that operate more locally, at different distances from a particular town or department, or between neighbouring departments. Check the articles for each locality to see what is available. In the Amazon, Llanos and the remote southern regions towards Leticia and the Pacific coast, roads are limited or non-existent, as are bus services. In addition, some of these remote areas, especially near the borders with Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, as well as the Amazon rainforest in the southeast and towards the Pacific coast, may still be dangerous due to guerrilla activity. Check with local authorities before travelling.
With the city bus
At the beginning of the century, very efficient and clean bus systems were set up in urban centres in Colombia and are spreading to other countries. In Bogotá there is the Transmilenio, in Medellín the Metroplus [www], in Cali the Mio, in Barranquilla the Transmetro, in Bucaramanga the Metrolínea, in Pereira the Megabús. It is always advisable to keep an eye on your belongings and not to bring valuables, excess cash (more than 20,000 COP visible) or unnecessary items. Never accept food or drink from strangers. Avoid talking to strangers at bus stops or terminals. You can be stopped at police checkpoints. Calm behaviour is the best way to avoid inconvenience.
With the metro
The only metro system in Colombia is located in Medellín, in the department (state) of Antioquia. It connects the outlying suburbs to the barrios of Medellín – line A runs from La Estrella to barrio Niquía, line B from barrio San Antonio to barrio San Javíer. The metro system also has two cable car lines: Metrocable line K, from Barrio Acevedo to Barrio Santo Domingo Savio, and Metrocable line J, which runs from Barrio San Javier. Riding the cable cars is a unique experience as passengers ride up the mountains in gondolas. The MetroCable has six stations and an extension to the Parque Arví ecopark. The ride to Parque Arvi costs about 4USD (3500 COP). There, after a 20-minute gondola ride, you reach an altitude of 2500 metres above sea level.
In large cities such as Bogotá, taxi networks are very extensive. Prices vary considerably from city to city. Bogotá, for example, is relatively cheap, while Cartagena is expensive. A taxi ride (bright yellow) through Bogotá can take up to a day, but costs less than $15.
When you order a taxi by phone, the company will give you the number of the taxi. The taxi will then be waiting at the address given. You may have to provide a three or four digit code that was given to you when you ordered the taxi. During the day, some taxi ranks in front of hotels, office buildings and government offices only allow certified drivers and companies and also take your name and contact details when you get into the taxi. It is easy to get a taxi from one city to another by phoning ahead and agreeing the price. The taxi will always be cheap by Western standards and it is safe and quite pleasant.
The meter in all taxis starts at 25 and then increases with distance. The number it arrives at corresponds to a fare displayed on the front seat of the taxi. Taxi and bus fares increase on Sundays, public holidays, early mornings and late evenings. There are also additional charges for luggage and for advance booking by telephone.
Unlike many other countries, it is not customary to tip the taxi driver. It depends on the individual.
Many taxis are not allowed to travel outside Bogotá with their licence due to border restrictions. You should always make arrangements in advance to travel by taxi outside Bogotá.
In some places (e.g. Las Aguas in the Candelaria district of Bogotá), you will find a person who acts as a “rabatteur” for taxi drivers – he or she will suggest a taxi and guide you to a specific taxi. You will then receive a small tip from the driver.
In large cities it has become very common to use apps to hail taxis. Tappsi and EasyTaxi seem to be quite popular. Uber is available in Bogotá and Medellín.
With the cable car
With most of Colombia’s population living in the Andes, cable car systems are becoming increasingly popular, both for commuting and for tourist travel. You can use the ones in Manizales and Medellín, which are integrated into the metro system [www], as well as those in the small rural towns of Antioquia: Jardín, Jericó, Sopetrán and San Andrés de Cuerquia. You can also enjoy the magnificent views from the new cable car over the Chicamocha River Gorge in Santander.